Yoga a lo cubano

Here you will find several items about yoga in Cuba. First, an interview with Dr. Eduardo Pimentel from Yoga Journal, then the translated introductions from two recently-published Cuban yoga textbooks. Translations by CubaNews. Edited by Walter Lippmann. Then, yoga teacher Mary Pafford's journal on Cuba.

YOGA JOURNAL
is the best-known yoga magazine in the United States. Dr. Pimentel has traveled to the US to teach and study yoga, including presenting a workshop at the YOGA JOURNAL conference in 2003. I first met him in1999 at the First US-Cuba Yoga Encounter which he discusses in this interview.   

Walter Lippmann.

Additional links:
Eduardo Pimentel—Havana's yoga master
http://www.cubaabsolutely.com/design/eduardo_pimentel.htm

EL Yoga en Cuba
http://www.yogaintegral.biz/cuba.html

Cuban Yoga Odyssey (2000):
http://yogachicago.com/2014/03/cuban-yoga-odyssey/

Yoga and Natural Medicine Cultural Exchange in Havana, Cuba (2004)
http://yogachicago.com/2014/03/yoga-and-natural-medicine-cultural-exchange-in-havana-cuba/


Cuban yoga teachers:
http://www.yogafinder.com/yoga.cfm?yogacity=Havana&yogacountry=Cuba

A Cuban tribute to B.K.S. Iyenger, October 2014
http://www.walterlippmann.com/iyengar-cuba-tribute.pdf

Updated November 2014
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Y
OGA JOURNAL
January-February 2004


OM PAGE
TALKING SHOP WITH
Eduardo Pimentel


ONE OF THE FOUNDERS of the Cuban Yoga Association (CYA), which is now 14 years old, Eduardo Pimentel has trained more than 9,000 yoga practitioners while working to develop a strong vipassana community in Havana. Known for bringing a joyful spirit and scholarly inquiry to his teaching and study, Pirnentel has been practicing yoga since 1971, studying in both India and the United States.

Yoga Journal: What were some of your earliest experiences with yoga?

Eduardo Pimentel: I read two of Swami Sivananda's books, Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga, which are both very traditional. Then I read Heaven Lies Within Us, by Theos Bernard, which initiated what I call my romantic period. For the first i 10 years, I practiced asana, pranayama, kriya, mantra, some Kundalini, and meditation. I believed that I would become a big yogi. Thanks to that, my ego grew, but the special taste for yoga and the recognition of my inner self also grew.

YJ: How is yoga in Cuba different from yoga in the United States?

EP: In the United States, there are many yoga movements with their own characteristics, while in Cuba we have just one -the Cuban Yoga Association.

YJ: Tell us about CYA.

EP: The Cuban Yoga Association came about in 19go. Ten students eventually became assistant teachers, and I became the president of the association. We give classes on the technical aspects of yoga. We don't give therapeutic classes, but we offer courses to complementary and traditional medical professionals. We use the lyengar method, which includes asanas and pranayama.

CYA is also occasionally called on by the government; we recently participated in discussions on yoga for women and yoga for old age at a conference on bioenergetics and traditional medicine. When Deepak Chopra came to Cuba, the government invited me to meet with him.

Yi: How did your friends and family react when you first started to practice yoga?

EP: When I began my practice at the end of 1971, only a few people knew of yoga. MY mother was worried about my health, because I wasn't eating a lot and I spent a lot of time meditating! All of this was very confusing to her. In the following years, many young people visited my home to ask questions about yoga.

YJ: What was a significant moment in your practice?

EP: When I began to write letters to B.K.S. Iyengar. A friend had bought his book Light on Yoga. For more than 15 years, Iyengar and I exchanged letters, and we talked in Pune, India. His books radically changed my asanas.

YJ: What inspired you to facilitate an international yoga exchange between Cuba and the United States?

EP: In 1999, a big group of yoga teachers organized by the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers came to Cuba. This was the first time teachers had come to Cuba to bring love, respect, happiness, and union rather than to found or promote a yoga movement. Also for the first time, we received blocks, mats, and blankets.

YJ: How do you sustain your enthusiasm and spirit?

EP: I believe in my inner self. Many moments come with confusion and sadness. Many misunderstandings arise. Over the years, I've always believed in the power of yoga in daily life. Ananda (bliss) develops in my heart, and people give me love and consideration. You go to your class with a headache, and you finish laughing and full
-Emily Polk


THERAPEUTIC YOGA
A Guide for Therapists and Patients
by Giuseppe Verde

Cuban edition: Editorial Científico Técnica
Santiago de Cuba, 2004

This book, first published by Nuova IPSA Editore in 1988,
has the following dedication:
“To the only great Master, Jesus Christ. Medicine for each man.”

Prologue to the Cuban Edition by Dr. Concepción Campa Huergo*

I cannot think of a nobler endeavor than to teach how to acquire from Nature the serenity, justice and relief of which she is plentiful; and how to bring out from ourselves […] the capacity we have […] of identifying and trusting the harmony in our own nature and in the constant relation between Nature and Man, a capacity that gives life a new flavor and deprives sadness of most of its poison and bitterness. -- Jose Martí

These words by Jose Marti express in an enlightened way the essence of natural medicine which, through its different modalities, searches for the harmony in our nature. Therapeutic Yoga is a good beginning for the collection on Natural Medicine that will present new titles every year; and these will allow readers to acquire the necessary knowledge to take responsibility for their health in an integral way.

There are multiple possible natural therapies that can be used to “deprive disease, pain and sadness of most of its poison and bitterness”, all of them in one way or another depending only on their acquaintance “to give life a new flavor”.

Among themes of natural medicine such as homeopathy, flower therapy, diet therapy, macrobiotics, aromatherapy and music therapy; yoga is one of the oldest health systems known and practiced in the world today. Scientific studies have demonstrated its impact on the reduction of stress, the lowering of blood pressure, the regulation of heart beat frequency, the decreasing of asthma episodes, the increase of pulmonary capacity, and, very importantly, a considerable delay in the process of aging. Surveys conducted on more than 3 000 people have indicated good results on common contemporary diseases such as back ache, arthritis, anxiety, migraine, insomnia, menstrual problems, hypertension, asthma, ulcers, hemorrhoids, obesity, diabetes, cancer and addictions, among many others.

Following a balanced program of postures, such as the ones described in this book, will certainly have a general harmonizing effect conducive to good health.

To the extent that the reading of the books in this collection, and the practice of the knowledge extracted from them, assists readers to “find in themselves the capacity to identify and trust the harmony in their own nature”, they will coincide with Marti on the fact that “there can be no nobler endeavor” than to teach what is taught in these books.

* Dr Concepción Campa Huergo, Doctor in Pharmaceutical Sciences. President and Director General of the “Finlay” Institute (Centre for Research and Production of Vaccines and Serums), since 1989. Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Havana and Senior Researcher at the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment. Member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Member of the Council of State. Deputy to the National Assembly of the Peoples Power (Cuban Parliament) since 1993. Labor Heroine of the Republic of Cuba.

=======================================================

YOGA FOR A HEALTHY LIFE STYLE (2002)

          Salutation
                 Join the palms of your hands
                 and place them to the height of your lips
                 slightly bend your head ...

                                        NAMASKAR...,
                 that is to say,
                 I salute you. In India, that means good morning,
                 good afternoon, good evening or goodbye,
                 depending on the situation.

 

 INTRODUCTION

                                                  Truth can walk without arms through the world
                                                                    
Vedic Proverb

Always taking into account that what provides health also cures the disease, because the latter is an alteration of the former, we can thus understand the importance of know Natural Law enables humans to live a healthy life and regenerate the sick. So much so that its precepts are included in the teachings and practice of Yoga, an element of the medicine accessible to all human beings as a source of Energy and Health.

In the development of Medicine as a science, Cuba as well as the rest of the world have been incorporating knowledge and practices of the so called Natural and Traditional Medicine. Yoga, as a millenary science, has been considered for a long time an efficient system to ease emotional tension, diverse evils of the body, the mind and regenerate energy balance; all of this has been checked throughout centuries, proving their validity and guarantee, besides being a means through which man can obtained a better quality of life.

Yoga cannot be learned with a single book, it’s constituted by a series of both physical and mental disciplines. The guidance of a teacher is advisable; because, in addition, it’s a vital attitude, a way of relating with yourself and with life, changing our perception of the exterior world and the way in which we live.

What we intend with this book
Yoga para un r
égimen de vida sano [Yoga for a health life] is to enrich the natural therapeutic arsenal of the doctor, with an efficient and harmless method of human improvement, in the triple biological, psychological and social nature of man as an entirety. This is not a finished work, it’s open to the enormous amount of issues that Yoga teaching involves and that we don’t intend to include here. In addition, it’s written so that any person, health professional or not,  be able to understand and apply it.

With the help of available literature and a little bit supported by our scientific culture in formation, we’ll try to show an easy way, with the initial theoretical and practical steps that have been repeated by man, saving distances, throughout ages; because as our President Fidel Castro Ruz said in his speach on the main rally marking the Day of Cuban Science:

“...we should not only dedicate our efforts to research. I think that an important work in the scientific area of our researchers, our professionals, is to gather information, experience of what is done in the world.”

 

OPINIONS ON THE BOOK *    

Provincial Scientific Health Council, Camagüey. Research Commission

This Permanent Research Commission received from the “Carlos J. Finlay” Higher Medical Science Institute’s Natural and Traditional Medicine Department, the text Yoga para un régimen de vida sano, with which its author, Dr. in Veterinary Medicine, Vitalia María Pérez Lojos, received her Master’s Degree in Natural and Traditional Medicine.

The work represents a contribution to the field of Yoga, it is a combination of scientific rigorousness and systematic spirit with a format that allows readers to understand the principles and principal ideas and concepts of this important component of traditional hinduism related to the health and quality of life of human beings, an issue poorly and inadequately dealt with by scientific literature in Spanish. Due to the way it’s presented and its content, it can be considered very useful to keep health professionals and other professionals, researchers and health providers up-to-date on this interesting issue. Therefore, it’s reproduction and publication must be promoted, as well as a future analysis, study and profound reflection on the work, which should lead to benefit and enrich the natural approach of human health.

April 1, 2002, “Year of the Heroes Prisoners of the Empire”

Dr. Sc. Arturo Menéndez Cabezas
President of the Research Commission CCPS
Vice
-President CCPS
Deputy Rector of Research ISCMC

 

It seems to me that I share with the illostrious ambassador of the Republic of India to Cuba and Dr. Rafael García Chacon a favorable opinion on the book by Dr. Vitalia María Pérez Lojos.

I’m honored to know her personally and having had the opportunity of evaluating her human virtues and high technical, professional and scientific level. Because I know her, I think that Vitalia’s virtues have been precisely the ones which have enabled a thorough revision of the subject and organizing her knowledge in a way that it reaches us in a didactical and understandable language for most readers.

In my opinion, it’s a useful text for teaching which will help incorporate Yoga as an important element which, along with diet and other resources of Natural Medicine, joins the arsenal of therapeutic and health promotion resources which Basic Health Teams all over the country should have a command of.

Then I thank Vitalia for having put in my hands the work that synthesizes additional efforts and the highest aspiration of the last five years.


Sincerely,

Dr. Leoncio Padrón Cáseres
National Director
of the MTN
MINSAP 
                                            
         

                              YOGA FOR A HEALTHY LIFE
                                (from the back cover of the book)

With this book we intend to enrich the natural therapeutic arsenal of the doctor, with an efficient method for human improvement.

In addition, it’s written so that any person, health worker or not, be able to understand and apply it.

Vitalia María Pérez Lojos (1951). Graduated as Dr. in Veterinary Medicine in 1977. She works at the Cuban Science, Technology and the Environment Ministry’s Delegation in Camagüey. Master’s Degree in Bioenergetics, representative of the

Cuban Science, Technology and the Environment Ministry in the National Inspection and Control Commission for the Implementation and Development of Natural Bioenergetic Medicine in the country. A member of the Academic Committee and professor with the Medicine University of Camagüey’s Natural and Traditional Medicine Department. She has taught post-graduate courses on Yoga and has participated as a lecturer and jury member in different national and international scientific events and congresses. She is the author of various specialized articles. She is the host of a TV show on Yoga and Feng-Shui in her province. She was awarded the Forjadores del Futuro (Forgers of the Future) medal and has been recognized by Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz as an outstanding innovator at the national level.

 

Mary Pafford:

YOGA IN CUBA
a personal article on my experiences in Cuba in December 2000
http://www.maryyoga.com/cuba2000.html

"Yoga is the one thing in my life that I can do to help myself and when life is very difficult & you feel helpless & dependent, this is very empowering. Sometimes it is the only thing that will get me out of bed in the morning & give me a reason to live"

This was a comment from an elderly Cuban gentleman in a Yoga class I observed at one of the Psychiatric Clinics in Habana that include Yoga as part of their program. Patients with severe psychiatric conditions but not so severe that they are in hospital attend this day hospital & have a full program of therapy, medical intervention & now daily Yoga. I had met the doctors responsible for this innovative form of therapy at a teacher training seminar that Rama Jyoti Vernon, Rodney Yee, Chris Hoskins & myself were invited to teach for the Cuba Yoga Associations teachers in December 2000. These psychiatrists who have introduced the Yoga are also avid students themselves & attended a series of beginning classes at our seminar, where Rodney, Chris & I were showing the teachers we were working with how we teach beginners. The Cuban teachers studied asana with us in the morning, philosophy in the afternoon with Rama Jyoti Vernnon & after a pranayama & inverted practice, we taught a class with a wide range of beginners. The beginners class grew to be 80 participants, more than half of whom were doctors & many others were involved in healthcare in some capacity. And although it made a very long day for us as teachers, we were all in awe of the hearttfelt enthusiasm for yoga in general & the many things they have to teach us about bringing yoga into the bigger health picture.

YOGA IN THE CLINICS:

Our psychiatrist friends claim that Yoga has made a tremendous difference to the work they do not only in this day hospital but also in monthly courses they run for clients who are having milder psychiatric problems eg depression & stress related disorders. This particular gentleman in the day hospital was not alone in his appreciation of what Yoga has done for him; several echoed his comments & when I asked if any resented or resisted the fact that it was a compulsory part of the program, they smiled at my naivety..."at first, some may be resistant but the power of the group & the willingness & enjoyment of the participants doesnt take long to infect them & soon enougth they feel the benefits for themsleves!" Even though the Yoga hasnt been long in the clinics the doctors are finding that they are able to considerably reduce the prescribing of the regular psychiatric drugs that are also an integral part of their practice & they credit Yoga with developping a sense of self reliance in the client & increased self motivation to heal. They also use acupuncture, acupressure, bach flower remedies & other relaxation techniques in the programs they offer people. This clinic to the US eye was in an ancient crumbling building, the line to the elevators went way out onto the street. We staggered up many flights of dingy steps to enter office space that was crowded with people waiting paitiently for services with the most rudimentary furniture & no decor to speak of. There were no props for the yoga & as you can see from the photos, students use towels or rugs to stand on ...in our seminar classes, there were many complaints when we advised students to work on the cold floor with bare feet. Cubans do not like the cold! The lack of props means that resorative yoga is not feasible. The doctors are highly trained in their medical expeertise but anxious to supplement their limited yoga training. As I surveyed the scene & marvelled at their tenacity & their openness to alternative ways ("we dont like to call it alternative medicine because we feel its for everybody!" said one of the doctors), I also considered the ways that we might be able to assist them in their Yoga development.

PRIORITIES DIFFER HERE...

On leaving the clinic, I had a most instructive lesson! I was late for another meeting but nobody was in any hurry (except me!). When we finally got into the elevator to descend, I could feel the angst rising as the jovial elevator attendant sent the elevator up instead of down! They were talking too rapidly & idiomatically for me to understand why everyone was smiling & laughing ...we got to a higher floor, the door opens & a fellow worker is standing there with a cup of sizzling hot coffee for the elevator man. He beams his delight grabbing the coffee,& turns to me & says " sometimes you just have to get your priorities right - i need my breakfast! " & we laughed all the way down, thankful that the ancient sign that indicated maximum capacity had disintegrated as more & more of us jammed in around the coffee & the jokes.....& of course I arrived at the next meeting half an hour late to find that the other part of the meeting was running even later. No pasa nada!

Priorities are different here. One of the psychiatrists had attended a class at our seminar, where I had read a very short poem by Neruda. As I left the clinic, she handed me a sheef of poetry some from LatinAmerican authors that she had translated for me & some of her own creation. They were superb. Another student from that class appeared the next day with a book of Mario Bendetti's work as a gift. At the end of the course all of us were showered with poetry books & art. Many of the teachers were also artists or musicians & while our course washappning the Art Biennale was also in full swing in the entire city. Every gallery, museum, plaza was filled with art from all over the world, especially Latin America & in the little time we had free, we sought out the Cuban work which confronted us with its aliveness. In a country where political expresion has been limited, these underground channels of the human spirit become very powerful. Charlie, one of the teachers we worked with, is a comedian & confirmed something I've been surprised by on each trip. Humor like art is a way people can maintain their sanity & their "honesty"; much of the work you see is quite critical of aspects of life in Cuba but its permitted to exist alongside the growing tourist schlock because the censors that exist dont understand it! This "autocracy" has an endearing bumbling quality to it - when you enter the airport & often have to face intense interrogation as to your purpose here etc, the police dogs of the guards are nothing other than adorable bassett hounds!

ALTERNATIVE HEALTH IS BIG!

There is a very interesting phenomenon going on right now in Cuba whereby the medical world is taking a serious look at health from a more wholistic stand point. Every hospital has a doctor/s specialising in alternative medicine. Many doctors continue their 8 year education with 2 year specialties in an alternative modailty; in Habana 60% of the regular doctors have this extra qualification. In each district of Habana (15) there are Traditional (non allopathic medicine) Clinics which offer a wide array of services like acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, physical therapy, fango( a local technique of using minerals in mud & applying to parts of the body!), & other modalities. These clinics, like the Psychiatric Clinic I visited, are now introducing yoga along with Tai Chi & Chi Kung & are incredibly enthused by what its doing not only to the health of their patients but also for themselves as hardworking practitioners. We were invited by several such clinics to visit their centers & see how much energy there is in alternative medicine in general & yoga specifically.

Rod Chris & myself met with Marta Perez, the Director of the Traditional Health Clinics in Habana. She explained that alternative medicine is not just a response to the embargo & the difficulty of getting medical supplies & drugs. "We have our own sutra" she said..."Traditional (meaning to us alternative) medicine is not a solution to poverty but essential to the wealth of everyone". She has worked very hard to convince the non-believers (& there are a good number there, as in the US) of the efficacy of these other modalities of care & is now committed to bringing Yoga into this arena. In Cuba 100% of the people can chose whether to have alternative/allopathic care. Many studies & research programs are being done through hospitals & universities to test these approaches & she believes that this is something that Cuba can offer the rest of the world. Training & information may be limited here right now but there is tremendous energy & resources available to study the impact of yoga on health. "Its so logical", says Marta "perhaps 40% of the population have kyphosis or hypo/hyper lordosis...which doctor or government official would deny yoga to all the school children if there were studies to prove that Yoga could reduce this by 20% ??? & what about repetitive Stress Injuries? how comprehensive are the studies being done in the US on this? We know Yoga can help prevent & ease these kind of situations. We just need more evidence to convince some of our community and we have the facilities & the motivation to do this and share this information with you".

In one of our beginners classes, a young woman, Lirio Santana, was working on her doctorate which involved an extensive study with 40 people just in the control group!, on the impact of different Yogic breathing techniques on musculo-skeletal conditions. The more she explained , the more we realised how vast this project was & the kind of thing only a drug company would finance in the US & what motivation would they have for that? Lirio asked me to ask others for any information that US Yogis might have about this research. If you have articles or web sites, please send them to us.

BUT YOGA ISNT "OFFICIAL"?????? YET In spite of Marta's enthusiasm & support of our work & Yoga in her clinics, Yoga is not offical in Cuba. This may not mean much to gringos & europeans,. Who wants to be official in this crazy climate of red tape, certification controversy, liability considerations??? However in Cuba it means a great deal. The Self Realization Society has been official since the mid 50's & this means that they can operate a small studio space & advertise their classes etc. But this is a particular group & perhaps an anomaly in a culture where religious practice has not been encouraged & anything that looks cult like has been very much discouraged. The Sai Baba society has repeatedly been asked to close down their centers.

Evidence of Yoga has existed since the mid 1800's in Habana ; in fact the first Hispanic translation of the Bhagavad Gita was written in Cuba. But the small groups & odd teachers later in 20thcentury is nothing to the current burgeoning level of interest. There are over 8000 students in Habana alone. Yoga is taught at official centers like the National Theater & the TV & teachers are asked to give advice on stress reduction by government officials. And in the last few years, appearing in Health Clinics. Despite all this the government has still not officially blessed Yoga & the yoga population awaits the time when they can rent studio space, open centers & have more freedom to do this important work.

EDUARDO PIMENTEL - A MAN WITH A VISION

Marta Perez's involvement & the recognition of Yoga on many strata of society is recent. The growth of Yoga in Cuba is largely the work of one man & his colleagues - Eduardo Pimentel & the Cuban Yoga Association. My personal connection with Yoga in Cuba began in 98 teaching some informal classes for Eduardo Pimentel, the President of CYA. Eduardo is a remarkable man who began his yoga life in the early 70's & has worked with the strategy of a chessplayer (which he is!) & as his students & colleagues say with great patience "como un hormigo un pequeno paso y despues otro" (like an ant one little step & then another..). He has educated government agencies about Yoga & its health benefits & appears occasionally on TV & symposiums to de mystify this ancient art & science. And has had great success.

LIFTING THE EMBARGO ON OUR HEARTS - YOGA FESTIVAL EXTRAORDINAIRE !

In 98, I asked Eduardo what I could do to help Yoga become official in Cuba & he asked me to work with Purusha Hickson, the organiser of the Festival of Yoga & Cuban Music that occurred in Habana in November 99. This festival was brought together by the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers & CYA. It was difficult to get sponsorship for this event from an official agency in Cuba because of Yoga's ambiguous status & eventually the Traditional Health Clinics agreed to partially sponsor the event. This proved to be very significant because many doctors & medical people came to the Festival & this in turn encouraged the relationship between the Yoga Association & the Clinics which has blossomed in the last year.

IGNORANCE ISNT BLISS - IT MEANS YOU MISS GOOD SALSA!

This festival brought together 80 US & international students & over 200 Cuban students for 5 days of Yoga classes with 10 respected teachers of different styles & a full program of speeches, meditations, meetings & Music, Music, Music! It was a magical event where noone was paid to teach/present & the volunteer spirit of Yoga was Humming!... That is an article in itself (See A#2). It was the most international Yoga event that had occurred in Cuba upto this time but an extremely challenging event to organise due to Yoga's strange status in Cuba & the general ignorance on the US side as to the Cuban scene. IABYT & CYA wethered many wild storms but manged to pull it off.

In 99 Cuba still wasnt as chic as it is now & we faced a lot of fear & ignorance around going to Cuba. The ignorance & fear was noticeable in the US & although Europeans & Canadians werent totally in alignment with what goes on down there, there was a much less patronising, less fearful better informed attitude among students & teachers I met outside of the US. Clearly the embargo has worked onmany levels. It was like pulling teeth to get people to sign up for what turned out to be beyond doubt a most transformative event . During that time, someone actually asked me if Cuba was part of the US..!!!!!Another - a leading figure in the Yoga world - asked "Why would anyone be interested in such an oppressive place as Cuba ?" I sent 60 personal letters to colleagues in the yoga world about the festival & the magnificent work of IABYT & had one response. Now due to the Elian crisis & the Buena Vista Social Club, I get a call almost every week with someone begging to go down with me.

Chuck Miller, wellknown Ashtangi of Yoga Works,participating teacher in the Festival , said that it was hard to know who was teaching who in this extraordinary cultural exchange. Its true that information about Yoga has been limited to books, occasional teachers & to intrepid individuals like Eduardo. But people like myself who get caught by the Cuba bug go there because one receives a 100% more than one brings. There is an energy & aliveness & thirst for yoga that makes our home territories seem lethargic & overcommercialised. Someone told me never to expect Cubans to be grateful for anything you bring because they feel thats just how it shoud be...those with more, giving to those with less. But I have never found this to be so. They are a very appreciative, heart filled people with a serious sense of humour. How else do you cope with the hardships many have faced? On our recent trip in 2000, the amount of students who referred to the Festival as a very powerful collective gathering & its impact on their Yoga & the yoga scene was phenomenal. Their gratitude to IABYT & its cohorts was very touching.

CUBA US YOGA EXCHANGE - BRINGING US, THERE & THEM, HERE!

Since the Festival a small group has come together to help facilitate bring our Yoga communities together. The most active members of this group are part of the Advanced Studies 18 month Course at Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California. Patty Hirota-Cohen, a Cuban enthusiast & student teacher, has taken on much of the work of bringing this volunteer group together. Along with support from IABYT & AYC, this group helped fund raise for administrative expenses for our trip in December 2000 & is working hard to bring 2 women teachers over to the US in fall of 2001. Our objective is to help Eduardo & the Cuban Yoga Association, create a dialogue between our yoga communities & assist in making Yoga "official" in Cuba.

This most recent trip, 12/2000, arose out of a desire to work intensely with the core group of Eduardo's teachers. Previous classes had been fun but piecemeal at best. I & colleague Rodney Yee decided we'd be best put to use by working with the teachers. Chris Hoskins from IABYT came to help us & Rama Jyoti Vernon from the American Yoga College asked to come & teach the philosophy section. Unlike the Festival, it was a small group working just with the 20 Cubans & a larger group of beginners in the evening. We still needed sponsorship but this time it was more readily given by Marta Perez & her Traditional Medical group. We worked our proverbial"butts" off & at one point in the week, Rod turned to me & said "Who's responsible for this schedule?" We both were & laughed. In Cuba you learn not to sleep much - the street noise never ends, if you're a vegetarian you can forget about eating too, but we did try & do the "when in rome" bit & when our students forced us to go out dancing with them on the last night, we reluctantly agreed. We had no idea what a cuba libre & those damned cigars (when in rome...) could do to your pranayama practice. But we suffered for the sake of our bigger purpose. It was a blast. As some of you know, Chris & Rod are professional dancers & every cuban has dance in their blood. This made teaching the belly work and 1st and 2nd chakra stuff a piece of cake - they knew it already & had great fun mocking our attempts to do salsa.

CONTRADICTIONS

In the middle of the evening at the Casa de Musica, where we were forced to enjoy ourselves so much, I remember thinking how many contradictions there are in all this. While at one end of the table, the rum & coke was being tested & some wily student was threatening to send pictures of us all to Yoga Journal, I was having a very intense conversatiion with a student & his wife. They had had a baby 5 months before & this was their first night out together. To the strands of loud salsa, the man was telling me how unbearable life had been on a sexual level because of the outrageous episiotomy policy that the doctors employ right now. Because Cuba's health statistics are very respected in the world - lower infant mortality rate than some parts of the US, life expectancy is 73 whereas in Mexico its 48, vaccination policies & doctor/patient ratios that are the envy of many other Latin & Central American countries - the doctors are under a lot of pressure not to let anything go wrong at the birth. & so the women are tested ad nauseam during pregnancy & usually have to endure a butchery of an episiotomy to make sure the baby is on the right side of the statistics. This reminded me of how many unnecessary caesareanns there are in this country mainly because of the litigation factor & the policy of insurance companies. Hmmm it made me wonder how we are all victims of politics & the $, as the music blasted to a crescendo & the couple ran off to dance & enjoy this special evening without babe.

WOMEN

There are very few women yoga teachers. Only 3 in the group of 20 that we taught & only 2 of those were actually teaching. This is why our Cuba US Yoga Exchange group feel its very important to help encourage the women & the feminine aspect of yoga. The 2 women who are coming in the Fall were originally offered full scholarships by attend Angela Farmer to attend her Womens Retreat at Harbin, California & now we have invitations for almost 2 months of study. The process of requesting a visa from the US government is lengthy & very complex. Its very difficult for a Cuban to come here as a visitor or student. We brought Eduardo Pimentel here in April 2000 & it took many months & the patience & skills of the lawyer who brought the Buena Vista musicians here to do it. He had been denied visas twice to come to attend trainings in the US in recent years for no obvious reason. Getting out of Cuba is not usually a problem. & of course the expenses involved in doing this are tremendous. We need at least 2000 per person just for lawyers fees & flights. Eduardo's application got mired in the confusion of the Elian crisis & we had to redo all his flights at the last minute. This is not untypical of the way things go. We have presented to the governments involved a great package of invitations which includes one from Spirit Rock & Jack Kornfield for the women to attend a 10 day sit. There have been 2 (semi-clandestine) Goenka vipassna retreats in Cuba but no insight mediation retreats as yet. Wez Nisker may be teaching one this year. This was a special request of the women, Elsa Hermida & Margarita Fonseca. These 2 also bring much to share with us. Elsa is a very fine musician & Margarita has worked in the traditional Health Clinics & has valuable information about working with women of the "Tercer Edad". We need all the donations we can get to help this project off the ground.

I will be going down in March (future article will be available on this trip later on) & working with a group of women, some of them medical people that we met in December. This will be an informal weekend workshop where I hope to pass on information re menstruation, menopause & pregnancy that may be helpful to them & hear their stories. I will also see what research programs are beng conducted there & visit as many classes & clinics as I can. All the previous articles I have brought down have been translated & passed around teachers & clinics. We sent Christine Northrups book Womens Bodies Womens Wisdom down & I have been told it is in several of the hospitals now. A little information can go a long way in this climate. The role of women here is complex & changing. They have many responsiblities. Some appear very strong - there are impressive numbers of women in government & in high positions & yet we noted a deep fatigue in some of the women attending the beginners class. When I taught a womens class at the festival, I heard stories that would break your heart & sitr your deep admiration for the crossroads that many - like many of us in the US - find themselves at right now.

FUTURE PROJECTS:

If the bigger Yoga community supports us, we would like to bring a Cuban teacher to 2 months of the Advanced Studies Course at Piedmont Yoga Studio; Rodney Yee & Donna Fone have offered full scholarship for the 2 months but we need much work & finance for all the other expenses. We would also like to bring Eduardo back here in 2002. He is like a beacon for yoga & as he is the one that everyone turns to for help, all the visiting spiritual dignitaries call him first, he is an overly busy man. Marta Perez said that she & Eduardo have to pursue this work for the sake of yoga in cuba & for the sake of humanity. We need to support this man on this vast journey & bring him here to inform us but to also have the opportunity to do a long retreat.

We are working with Global Exchange who have been very supportive of all these projects & were responsible for all the travel & details of accommodation etc in the Festival. Our next group trip will be a small teaching group going down in fall of 2001. It will include myself & Chris Hoskins who will continue the dialogue with the teachers & the clinics from last year . We will be assisted by Patty Hirota-Cohen & Baxter Bell MD, who will help us develop a program for the clinics to introduce restorative work & also work with the connections that Eduardo is creating in the Sports world. In the future we hope that Global Exchange will help continue this work. Teachers like Eduardo's first teacher in Miami - Bobbi Goldin, Angela Farmer & Victor van Kooten & many others have offered to go share their work. This next trip is to consolidate the work we did last year & also to grease the wheels of future larger events. It is very complex bringing larger groups to Cuba at this time. Until Yoga is official, this may always be precarious. But the signs look good for the future of Yoga in Cuba. Let the CubaUS Yoga Exchange know if you are interested in future happenings and contact Eduardo for upto date information about the current situation.

All of us pay our own way down there, we pay all our accommodation expenses & many things besides. We seek assistance in payment of Yoga room rentals, providing a midday meal for the students ( most cubans earn between $10 -15 a month) & in logistical expenses. What I am trying to say is that your donated dollar goes very far because of the huge amount of volunteerism that is occurring. And if you wanted to throw in a dollar for my- one & only!- cuba libre, be my guest or see you down there!

FOR MORE INFORMATION & TO MAKE DONATIONS
Contact the Cuba US Yoga Exchange